Career Advice Apr 18 2012

Ten Tips for Taking Your Military Career to the C-Suite

By alina dizik

Transitioning to civilian life after serving in the military isn't easy, particularly when moving into the corporate world.

Yet many of the same skills needed to build a successful business career are identical to those necessary in the service. Employers value veterans because of their leadership experience and other soft skills, says Suni Harford, regional head of markets at Citi in New York.

"Business acumen and quantitative skills can be taught through training and mentoring, but more intangible qualities like the ability to work independently or the ability to self-motivate can be just as important to a hiring manager," says Harford.

That said, for many soliders returning home, it's difficult to find a perfect fit. Patience is key, adds Lisa Rosser, a retired lieutenant colonel who's worked with companies like Accenture to jump start their military recruiting initiatives. "Finding a job takes longer than you think it will," she says. Veterans should plan to spend eight to 12 months when looking to transition.

While these rules won't necessarily land you directly at the top of the corporate world, they'll help get you in the door.

Highlight Your Transferable Skills

It can be difficult to understand how your most recent military experience relates to your civilian career. "Vets tend to leave off or down play their transferable skills," says Rosser. "They are doing themselves a disservice."

Instead of winging it, make a list of your biggest accomplishments and see how the skills you learned relate to the specifications of a civilian role. Leadership experience and quick decision-making skills are often the biggest demand of employers eager to recruit veterans.

Sell Your Previous Experience

Most interviewers expect to hear a few exciting stories about your experience in the service. Use these anecdotes to share the lessons you learned, rather than simply listing adjectives regarding your experience. Before an interview, prepare stories that serve as specific examples of what the company values in veterans.

Highlighting stories about self-motivation, your ability to evaluate risk and strong work ethic can help build your candidacy, says Citi's Harford. "Veterans often have these attributes, and need to remember that these are among their key personal selling points," she says.

Create Several Resume Versions

Tailoring the experience you list on your resume to each position can increase your chances for an interview. So if you're seeking an operations role at one company and a technology role at another be sure list your experience in a different manner on each resume. Don't just have a laundry list of experience.

"If you lump everything you did over a 15-to-20-year career into one all-purpose resume, the resume will not likely make it through the screening process," Rosser says. Instead draw out your functional experience for each role and make sure each resume emphasizes what's highlighted in the job description.

Skip the Military Jargon

Many recruiters and hiring managers are unfamiliar with the language and career advancement rules of the military. Get ahead by using easy-to-understand language during interviews and on your resume, even when explaining your active duty experience.

"The key for a veteran who may not have academic or professional experience is using plain language to talk about what they did during their active-duty service," says Citi's Harford. If you're stumped, seek assistance: "At Citi and elsewhere, there are volunteers that will work with veterans to help 'translate' their resume into the civilian vernacular," she adds.

Build Your Online Presence

When transitioning to a civilian career, a profile on LinkedIn can be one of the best ways to learn about opportunities. "Many recruiters hunt for candidates on LinkedIn," says Rosser. "Create a profile [and] join up to 50 groups that relate to your background and to the area you will be returning to, and start making connections so your profile can be found." To get the most out of LinkedIn, treat the text like a resume and be sure to proofread before making your profile public.

Don't Give Up on Your Network

Chances are those in your network won't instantly help you land a job. But don't give up. Build your network by staying in touch with fellow veterans and recruiters. Instead of asking for a job, send follow-up emails or relevant news articles just to carry on a conversation.

Staying on the radar of veterans who have successfully transitioned to the corporate world is especially important. "People who have transitioned before you…will be your best source of leads," says Rick Fondriest, director at Deloitte Consulting LLP and leader of the firm's Junior Military Officer Recruiting Program.

Be Ready to Relocate

Limiting your job search based on location can severely limit your options, say hiring managers. If you have some flexibility in your geography, mention it during an initial conversation with a recruiter or on your resume. If you're not ready to move to a different city, be ready to sacrifice, says Rosser. "You either need to stay open to relocation, or you need to adjust your expectations as to the type of employment you may have to accept," she says.

Try Out Your Job Pitch on Civilians

Since other vets can have an innate understanding of where you're coming from, foolproof your elevator pitch by trying it out on civilians to make sure it's relatable in the corporate world. Someone who's unfamiliar with the specifics of the military can give you additional feedback on anything you've overlooked, says Rosser.

Learn What Companies Want

Many companies seek veterans to help fill roles that may not necessarily be the primary functions of a particular firm. Citi, for example, hires vets for technology roles in addition to finance. Do your research and be aware of these unexpected job openings.

"You may be surprised at the breadth of jobs offered by an organization," says Rosser. "Hospitals need far more than doctors and nurses – they need security professionals, food service staff, IT, operations [and] emergency management."

Seek Necessary Certifications

Some veterans make the mistake of assuming they have all the experience for a specific career path, but fail to earn the necessary certifications, says Ted Daywalt, president of VetJobs.com, a military job board.

"Many of the skills learned in the military exist in the civilian world, but the skills must be certified or licensed by a credentialing group before you can work in the field," says Daywalt. Common examples are getting a commercial driver's license and various radiology equipment certifications.

Write to Alina Dizik at alinadizik@gmail.com




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